A Chat With Robinson Devor
Scene from Zoo
Part Three: Blue and Green Noir (for part two, click here)
While making Police Beat, did you think about other films made in Seattle?
The only one that came to my mind, while I was reading reviews--but not while I was actually watching it--was Alan Rudolph's Trouble in Mind,
because people kept using the word "surrealistic." Trouble in Mind is obviously surrealistic, but I don't think surrealism is an obvious part of Police Beat.
You know, I haven't seen Trouble in Mind. I'd like to see it.
Certain images will definitely stay with you. It's over-the-top, but in a wonderful way. Divine plays a man, Keith Carradine is a bad guy, Seattle is Rain City. It's definitely Seattle, but everything is heightened. It's a trip. Rudolph lives here.
Really? I don't think I was thinking about any of that kind of stuff.
Trouble in Mind (1985)
So, when you first heard about the Enumclaw Horse
Case, did you decide to make a film at that point?
No, I didn't think at all that I would ever make a film about it.
Did the idea originate with you or with Charles?
Well, we always talk about things, about something to work on.
It's the most unlikely subject.
It's both the most unlikely and the most obvious. We enjoy the regionalism of the work that we dream up or are inspired by. It's very, very important to us--it's important to me, and I think it's important to him--and so that [story] became a major blip on our radar. At one point, we were thinking of things like a remake of Public Enemy as an ELF [Earth Liberation Front] piece. Environmental terrorism as a classic, prime gangster movie. That kind of stuff. I thought that would make it a little more interesting, looking at the power structure within and the rise to power...
No one's ever done that.
Yeah, no one's done that. It would take a lot of liberties with the reality of things, but those are attempts to look at things that happened here, to put a prism on it that makes it more than a news story. Journalists do fantastic work and they probably do better work...as artists than filmmakers can, but filmmakers have a certain--they can do things writers can't. Charles and I also are big film noir people.
Pape S. Niang in Police Beat
That reminds me of Sam Fuller, because he worked in noir and he was a journalist before he became a filmmaker.
I guess that's old school journalism. They pull you into a story within like a sentence. He was good at that for sure. There are many people who love--film noir is both a term that upsets people and also is a revered genre. If there's one thing that I'm somewhat proud of with Police Beat, it's that I consider it a crime film and a film noir. It's a blue and green film noir. Film noir is such an inventive--it's the most inventive--probably of all genres of film. There isn't any creative angle that film noir hasn't approached. So, we thought it would be interesting to have a protagonist, who is a police officer, who is completely detached the entire movie from solving crimes, totally debilitatingly melancholy and lovesick the whole time. That was the film noir angle. And so this movie we saw as an opportunity to bring in Mount Rainier and to bring in the equine society and to bring in different stratas of society, everyone from truck drivers to aeronautical and military engineers. That, to me, is pure noir. There's death, plus a lot of hatred, a lot of humiliation. The most humiliating public death--probably in American media--of all time. And yet there's all this great opportunity for beauty. There's a group of friends who were--they're this subculture that gets very little press that is, in fact, as normal as any subculture. They have friendships, normal human day-to-day activities. They just happen to have a different focal point of desire. And so you were asking how we got into it. The initial thing was, I think that I mentioned to Charles--Charles is very into horses, by the way.
I wouldn't have guessed that.
He has a big rodeo picture in his bedroom and he listened to country music growing up as an African child. And he's always talking about horses... He's always asking me, Do you want to go to this rodeo in Spokane? He wanted to go to one year...
Isn't Pendleton a big one?
He knows all about the Pendleton Rodeo. I think he's
a pretty good rider, too, actually. Believe it or not.
He seems like such an urban guy.
He's urban, but that's his thing.
Police Beat poster
I've found that with horses... You can't predict horse people. I used to think
you could, because there's that stereotype--not so much of working class--
but more of the wealthy people [who ride]. Do you know what I mean?
I've been finding that that's not necessarily true.
It's like the person who died, who we are not naming and shall re-
main nameless--even though it's in the public record--he's a guy
who found being with horses to be an antidote to a lot of lesser...
psychological, bureaucratic, war-machine activities. The beautiful
thing we learned about this person is not that he wanted to have
sex with horses, but that he wanted to shed all of his responsibili-
ties to his job, to the guilt and depression he had working for this...
Was his job working with horses?
No, he was an engineer, who was working for this secretive division of a very well known aerospace company that has since merged with a military manufacturing company, and he was not so indirectly involved with contributing to devices that would eventually kill people. And so the beauty of this story--and I gotta tell you, it's a big challenge--but the thing that I respond to, and I think I'm not there yet, but this man embodied the far extremes possible, in one man, of being an American. He began life having the traditional American dreams of marriage and children. He worked for a blue chip, venerable American company, and those things weren't working out quite so much for him, and so he swung all the way over to the other side of the spectrum, where he became less conservative and more liberal. He began experimenting with his own sexuality as a gay man, positive or not, going to the furthest outreaches of human sexuality--interspecies.
Scene from Zoo
Next: We Are Not Who We Appear to Be